“In the beginning, there was nothing.”

Here it is on screen, straight out of the Bible, the tale of the early days of the world and mankind. At first and on a few occasions afterwards, we only get flashes of Genesis: a snake, an apple, a rock. But fear not: later on, Noah himself tells us the story of Creation as it unfolds on screen in one of the film’s most brilliant sequences.

I went to Catholic school and I’m rather familiar with the Bible, but there are still elements that surprised, maybe even shocked me in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, not least of all being the Watchers, fallen angels who have taken the form of some kind of fantastical rock monsters, who are portrayed visually as a cross between The NeverEnding Story’s Rockbiters and The Lord of the Rings’ Ents. They’re always fascinating to watch and they even get to kick ass during an epic battle scene.

Epic battle scene? Yes, we get that in Aronofsky’s version of the Bible, in which Noah himself, as played by the always intense Russell Crowe, is a bit of an action hero… Or at least a survivor who’d rather kill than be killed. After we see him witness the murder of his father in a scene that reminds a bit of Conan the Barbarian, we catch up with Noah as an adult with a wife (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons. Like I said, they’re survivors in a desolate world that seems to be post-apocalyptic (or should it be “pre-apocalyptic”?), filled with savage men out to get them.

Then Noah starts having visions of the end of the world… “Death by water.” The Creator has apparently grown tired of Man’s wickedness and he’s ready to destroy everything on Earth… Yet he’s willing to spare Noah, who’s given the mission to build an Ark that can shelter every species of bird and beast.

Noah overflows with stunning, iconic imagery and much of it depicts the building of the Ark and the arrival of countless animals. And then comes the Flood, perhaps the most astonishing sight of all. As endless water falls from the skies and bursts out of the ground, we’re filled with awe, but also with uneasiness, because even though we’re told -and shown- that mankind has become hopelessly corrupted, it’s still painful to hear people scream in fear and pain as they drown everywhere around the Ark…

The movie continues to go to some emotionally disturbing places as Noah starts acting less like a prophet and more like a madman, who decides that humanity must not survive at all, meaning that his sons are to be the last ones of their species, never to have a lineage of their own. I don’t want to go into details, but this leads to some truly gut-wrenching scenes between Crowe and Connelly as well as between Crowe and Emma Watson, who plays a girl he rescued years ago and who’s now in a relationship with one of his sons.

After scaling back and doing a couple of more intimate character studies (The Wrestler, Black Swan), Darren Aronofsky returns to grandiose filmmaking with Noah, which shares more than a few traits with what I consider to be his best film, The Fountain, including an incredibly moving score by Clint Mansell. Like everything Aronofsky has ever directed it is, simply put, a must-see.